The surgeon of Crowthorne: the murder, mystery and madness of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester
Published by Penguin Books Ltd
The making of the "Oxford English Dictionary" was a monumental 50 year task requiring thousands of volunteers. One of the keenest volunteers was a W C Minor who astonished everyone by refusing to come to Oxford to receive his congratulations. In the end, James Murray, the "OED's" editor, went to Crowthorne in Berkshire to meet him. What he found was incredible - Minor was a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language.
This was probably my favourite of the recent true historical mystery stories I've listened to. It was read by the author, who managed to make all the voices distinctive and conveyed a real love for his subject. The dictionary extracts were charming, and there were more nods to the modern age and how we would have interpreted the facts differently than in the previous stories I've encountered in the genre. Distinctly recommended.
by J.L. Merrow
Published by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
To most of the world, Tom Paretski is just a plumber with a cheeky attitude and a dodgy hip, souvenir of a schoolboy accident. The local police keep his number on file for a different reason—his sixth sense for finding hidden things.
When he’s called in to help locate the body of a missing woman up on Nomansland Common, he unexpectedly encounters someone who resurrects a host of complicated emotions. Phil Morrison, Tom’s old school crush, now a private investigator working the same case. And the former bully partly responsible for Tom’s injury.
The shocks keep coming. Phil is now openly gay, and shows unmistakable signs of interest. Tom’s attraction to the big, blond investigator hasn’t changed—in fact, he’s even more desirable all grown up. But is Phil’s interest genuine, or does he only want to use Tom’s talent?
As the pile of complicated evidence surrounding the woman’s murder grows higher, so does the heat between Tom and Phil. But opening himself to this degree exposes Tom’s heart in a way he’s not sure he’s ready for... while the murderer’s trigger finger is getting increasingly twitchy.
This is packed with JL's trademark humour, tinged with the shadwow of a murder mystery and yet more overshadowed by the history of bullying resulting in life-changing consequences for both victim and bully. There's a fine cast of potential suspects, and it took me almost as long as the protagonists to figure out who the real murderer was. I also loved the downbeat Britishness of the various locations, and the quirky side-characters.
Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars
by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg
Published by Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press
Scotty Bowers, a dashing young ex-Marine exuding sex appeal, arrived in Hollywood in 1946 and quickly caught the attention of many of the town's stars. Working out of a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, Bowers soon became the go-to guy for anyone looking for a bespoke sexual partner; no matter how outlandish the tastes, Scotty could find someone for everyone...In his thirty years 'tricking' and arranging tricks for LA's rich and famous, Bowers went to bed with thousands of people and engineered sexual liaisons of all flavours for countless more. Full Service is the ultimate guilty pleasure, revealing for the first time the shadow lives of the people who created popular culture, told by the man who was so central to fulfilling their desires.
This one fell a little flat for me. I just never felt that the different personalities came to life. It wasn't helped that the few Hollywood women who got mentioned seemed to have got on the wrong side of the narrator (I'd say author, but I'm not sure which of the pair made the real contribution to the finished product) and that the unpleasant aspects of certain others' politics were glossed over or ignored altogether.
An Empty Death
by Laura Wilson
Published by Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
1944. After almost five years of conflict, London's inhabitants are war weary - and DI Ted Stratton is no exception. After a long night digging a bomb victim out of rubble, he's called to investigate a doctor's death. The circumstances seem suspicious: an affair turned sour? Revenge? As Stratton digs deeper, he begins to suspect something more sinister is going on - that a faceless shadow is stalking the hospital corridors...Meanwhile, Ted's wife Jenny meets a bombed-out woman claiming her soldier husband is an impostor. Jenny thinks she must be in shock, but the truth is stranger and far more dangerous...
I received this as a free signed copy at a writing event over a year ago, and I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get round to reading it. The second DI Stratton book, and we're in possibly the bleakest part of the war for those in London. Like my first review of this set, there are some well-researched glimpses of psychiatric conditions, which we understand better now than the characters did then. A couple of the events took me completely by surprise, and Stratton's immediate and delayed actions to them are extreme by our standars, and even by those of 1970's cop shows. There's comic relief, though, provided by the obnoxious brother-in-law Reg and some lighter, if not comic moments from the lady who takes in Stratton's children as evaccuees. Another series I plan to catch up with eventually.